The Original Big Foreign
Dirk Nowitzki became the 6th player in NBA history to eclipse 30,000 points Tuesday night, also becoming the first foreign player to achieve this feat.
So where do we rank the seven-foot German among the all-time greats? Is he top-ten? Is he a 1st ballot Hall of Famer? What did he bring to the game?
With only one championship to his name, it's hard to include Dirk within the top ten, among others that have won multiple titles, along with big numbers.
One thing that is undeniable is Dirk's contribution to the game of basketball. While other foreign players have had great success, such as Hakeem Olajuwon and one of Dirk's longtime rivals, Tim Duncan, Dirk is the first great foreigner to play in the NBA without playing American-style basketball. There wasn't a guy that Dirk could mimic or train with during his early years in Germany. He did not have the luxury of playing at Wake Forest or Houston like Olajuwon and Duncan. At Houston, Olajuwon was blessed to work with Moses Malone, the man who help develop Olajuwon's unprecedented footwork.
Dirk had to witness his basketball scholars from afar.
There were quality foreigners in the NBA during the 90s, but the Dream Team historic run in the 1992 Olympics birth a new generation of foreign players. Dirk is one of many of European basketball babies that witness the greatness of the Dream Team on European soil. Prior to Dirk, Detlef Schremp was the most decorated German-born basketball player at the time. His family moved from East Germany his senior year in high school, which led to a stellar career at Washington, and a solid NBA career that included three trips to the NBA All-Star Game and two Sixth-Man of the Year awards.
Schremp impact on the culture of basketball is not as strong as Dirk. Dirk came into the NBA already with legendary tales. Charles Barkley shared a story of when Dirk gave Scottie Pippen a cool 50-points at the tender age of 18. MJ and Barkley were also playing in that game -- an exhibition game during a European tour in 1997. The Mavericks picked Dirk 6th overall in the 1998 Draft, thus starting the transition of the NBA game.
Before Dirk, international players were considered "soft", a narrative that stuck with Dirk for much of his career. Dirk was unlike any of the seven-footers in the NBA during his early years. He was essentially a unicorn on the basketball court. The game had never seen a seven-foot perimeter player, let alone a skilled big European. It took awhile for fans to really appreciate Dirk's skill set and style of play. Dirk was unlike his counterparts at that time such as Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan. Garnett and Duncan were known for their offensive post material and uncanny defense in the paint, while Dirk played further away from the basket. He was the first "Stretch Four" before anyone knew what it was.
As the years went by, more foreigners started to appear in the NBA and the game started to adopt the international style of play. When Dirk became the league's MVP in 2007, GMs had no choice but to take action. Between the 1987-1997 NBA drafts, only nine foreign-born players were lottery picks (1-14); from 2008-2016, 32 players were drafted in the lottery, nine of which picked in 2016. You can argue whether or not Dirk is the sole reason for the influx of international talent, but what other foreign players transcended the game like Dirk? Players like Andrea Bargnani, Kristapas Porzingis, and Andre Gallinari have been selected in the lottery because of GM's hunt for the next Dirk.
Dirk's patent move -- the one-legged fadeaway jumper -- has been mimic by some of the best scorers in the league. The one-leggged fadeaway is just one example of how Dirk changed the game of basketball, along with bringing the stretch-four to the game. Kevin Durant, another unicorn, has equipped himself with a Dirk style fadeaway. The move is essentially unstoppable due to the fact it is a fadeaway by a seven-foot shooter, comparable to Kareem's sky-hook or the Dream Shake.
Hitting 30,000 solidifies Dirk as a 1st ballot Hall of Famer. Once considered just another soft euro player, he transformed into an essential prototype for the current climate of NBA basketball. Dirk doesn't have the same amount of rings as Duncan or the popularity as Kevin Garnett, but he is the original big foreign that changed the game.